A Moroccan proverb goes: “the sheep spends his whole life being afraid of the wolf, but in the end, who feasts on the sheep? The shepherd!” Well, some months after China and 10 days after Italy, Moroccan authorities announced the country’s first cases of COVID-19 on 2 March and attributed them to “external factors”. Specifically, a Moroccan returning from Italy, then French tourists. The epidemic has worsened, infecting 2,024 people, of whom 126 have died (as of 15 April, 45 days after the first infections) according to official data.
Initially, the authorities underestimated the severity of the danger. Today, they fear the impact that confinement will have on the economy and corporate profits. The measures taken have been chaotic: for example, the government suspended flights to and from China while announcing that a group of Moroccan students living in China could return home. Security at ports and airports has been tightened, but many of those who passed through have remarked on the shortage of equipment there. Security all over the country has increased gradually up to the announcement of a “quarantine”, and finally a state of health emergency from 20 March through 20 April.
After these measures were imposed, security personnel and then the army’s armoured vehicles came out in force, to “assure the proper implementation of the quarantine.” The state has exploited the situation to tighten its grip, intervening violently by kicking and slapping citizens, as witnessed by numerous videos circulating on social media.
Coronavirus: Is Morocco heading towards an extension of containment? https://t.co/5j4zgp9st4 pic.twitter.com/OtEig9r4Ge— Daily Morocco (@dailymorocco24) April 16, 2020
A “proactive and effective” plan?
All of these steps were accompanied by a media campaign that painted the state, especially “his majesty,” as the very incarnation of wisdom. “Hasn’t the State aided people who have lost their jobs?... Morocco’s rate of infection is among the lowest, with fewer than 2,000 diagnosed cases and fewer than 200 dead. Certainly Morocco’s situation is better than that of the United States!”
That is the official discourse, but the reality is something else entirely. These people forget to mention some facts, that to them, are unimportant. Monthly financial assistance to “redundant” (laid-off) workers is only 800 dirhams (86 USD) for a family of two, 1,000 dirhams (107 USD) for a family between three and four people, and 1,200 dirhams (129 USD) for a family of four or more. These amounts would suffice for an ascetic who does not need to eat, drink or find safe lodging, or any other requirement of everyday life… It is revealing to compare these measly sums to the 230 million euros that the Royal Palace receives every year – 19 million per month, or the equivalent of 638,000 euros per day!
As to the number of reported cases, more than 40 days have elapsed since the first were detected, and Morocco as a nation has one of the lowest rates of testing. According to WorldOMeter data as of 15 April, scarcely 10,359 tests have been conducted on a population of around 36 million. This is far lower than the testing rate in beleaguered countries like Iraq (46,135 tests for 38 million inhabitants), Palestine (17,329 tests on 5 million people), and other countries that are weathering an imperialist blockade, like Cuba (20,451 tests on 12 million inhabitants) and Venezuela (225,009 tests on 29 million people).
We are quite far from being able to attest to the “efficacy” of “his majesty” or his regime! Quite the contrary!
This is to be expected, however, taking into account the disastrous condition of the healthcare infrastructure in Morocco. After 60 years of so-called “independence,” Morocco still has very few hospitals or recovery rooms. Why invest in such things when we could use the money for the armed forces, or the salaries of high-ranking officials? The rich also simply avoid being taxed altogether: the amount of money that left the country for tax havens and foreign banks between 2004-2013 has surpassed US$41 billion. As a consequence, Morocco has only 1,640 hospital beds for close to 40 million inhabitants, and only 684 of those are in public hospitals. From 1960 to 2014, the number of hospital beds decreased by 31 percent. Today, there are only 3.7 doctors and 2.9 nurses per 10,000 people.
This is a catastrophe, but neither “his majesty” nor his government are concerned, because most of the ministers and the ruling class have dual citizenship and can simply flee to Europe to take care of themselves. For them, the problem emerged only after Europe’s doors closed, but they decided to allocate existing hospital beds to the “blue bloods,” while demanding that the majority of the country’s people stay at home and have faith in potential immunity from the virus.
Let us not forget to mention that “his majesty” left the country to take refuge in the Canary Islands in his 90 million euro yacht!
“In the same boat”?
During the meeting of the Interior Commission and the Territorial Collectives in parliament, the Minister of the Interior made “an appeal to the spirit of citizenship to go through this crisis together,” signaling that all Moroccans should consider themselves to be in the same boat.
What a magnificent boat! Like Noah’s Ark, not only is it capable of transporting the chicken alongside the fox, but it also can transport physicians alongside the same ministers who reprimanded them two years ago when they took to the streets to protest the catastrophic conditions of the healthcare sector. This boat can even seat workers exploited for their miserable salaries next to the vampires who force them to work without any means of protection!
With this metaphor, we must convince ourselves that the “Makhzen” (the king, his ministers, high-ranking military officers, and other representatives of the ruling class) suddenly care about the health of the subjects… but it is the same regime that imposed austerity measures on vital sectors like health care and that has jailed hundreds of Hirak militants in the Rif (a remote mountain range) and condemned them to hundreds of years of imprisonment, simply because they demanded the construction of a hospital in their neglected region.
We must somehow convince ourselves that the same state that kills innocent protestors – and that shot to death a young woman whose only crime was to try to escape by boat from a country that gave her neither work nor dignity – is suddenly worried about the fate of millions of Moroccans. We must also convince ourselves that the same state that lets 20,000 children die of treatable illnesses like diarrhea and malnutrition each year, and that does not care about the deaths of a hundred per year by scorpion sting, suddenly has come to feel affection for them. The Makhzen never makes such mistakes: it is always right!
“Confinement” does not mean the same thing for everyone
Although the number of tests carried out in Morocco to date is barely over 10,000, the number of people arrested for “violation of confinement rules” exceeds 28,000! Of course, the only people to be punished are the workers and the poor who have to leave their homes to survive in these difficult circumstances. Those with government connections, such as the sister of the leader of the Justice and Development Party, can simply contact the Prime Minister or an influential person to be allowed outside.
Furthermore, this law obviously does not apply to factory owners who force workers to work without providing them with the most basic means of protection. Workers travel in overcrowded means of transport and work shoulder to shoulder for long hours under the threat of dismissal. This is the real reason why dozens of workers in various industrial zones – notably Tangier, Casablanca, Marrakech and Fez – find themselves infected, not to mention their families and friends. To date, Casablanca has reported 85 cases, Marrakech 66, Tangier 21 and Fez 68.
Has the state taken steps to punish these capitalists? Of course not! Have the unions done anything? Impossible, since they now support ‘unity’ and ‘social peace’, unilaterally.
All of this confirms that neither the government nor the capitalist system can help society cope with the pandemic; in fact, they prevent effective action, due to decades of austerity, repression, and profit-seeking policies, to the detriment of the lives of millions of men and women.
Who pays the price?
Despite the statements of the Minister of the Interior regarding “the boat” carrying all Moroccans, the brunt of this crisis is not truly shared by all passengers! Millions of workers, peasants, and the most vulnerable sectors of society are being crushed by increasing unemployment and the cost of living, as well as governmental repression. Millions live with hunger daily and fight for the minimum necessary to survive, running the risk of contracting the virus in factories, greenhouses and overcrowded neighborhoods where there is sometimes no sanitation or portable water. And still, capitalist parasites rush to take advantage of the situation and accumulate huge profits by increasing all prices, including those of rotten food and defective face masks that harm people’s health.
The official press invites us “to be honest and not to forget to mention the significant contributions that many of the wealthiest citizens and large businesses have made to the “Anti-Corona Fund", estimated at billions. So as not to spoil this lovely image, we must not look too closely at the fact that their contributions are mere crumbs of the enormous wealth they have accumulated by exploiting the workers and the resources of the country for decades, with methods that the capitalists themselves consider criminal. Nor should we emphasise that they are only trying to save their own rotten system. Above all, we must not mention that they did so only after the Minister of the Economy confirmed that he would consider their contributions “as donations bearing the character of accounting charges deductible from taxes", meaning that he would exempt them from taxes in exchange for their generosity! Apparently it is not appropriate to point out that they are all now at the government’s door to obtain help from the same fund, as the General Confederation of Enterprises of Morocco has openly declared.
The real enemy
In Morocco, just as everywhere in the world, the virus is not the cause of the crisis; it is simply the catalyst that has accelerated a long-running process. We Marxists have already explained this in many of our articles.
The real cause of the crisis is the capitalist system itself. The virus is not responsible for the destruction of the healthcare and education sectors, nor for the privatisations that have made society unable to cope with the pandemic.
The feverish pursuit of profit, which is the sole objective of capitalism, has made the lives of millions of people hellish. It ruins their standard of living and working conditions and is destroying the environment and civilization itself.
The crisis has worsened as the virus spreads. The High Commissioner for Planning, Ahmed Al-Halimi, forecast in mid-March that the economic growth rate would not exceed one percent. On 13 April, however, Al-Halimi announced a radical revision in the forecast; he told the Spanish press agency EFE that growth would be negative (-1.8 percent) in the second quarter of this year. He added that “Morocco will record its worst economic year of this century.”
This is what capitalism has to offer: crisis after crisis. The working class and the poor are the ones who pay the price. The capitalists and their governments are already sharpening their knives in preparing for the post-coronavirus period. The government has decided to freeze promotions for workers and employees in the public sector and plans to deduct three days of pay from the salaries of civil servants and employees of public establishments, including workers in the health sector. Massive borrowing is likely. This will put the full weight of the crisis on the shoulders of workers for many generations to come.
The capitalists are already asking the State to intervene to help them preserve their profits after the pandemic, at the expense of the people, of course. In this context, Akhenouch (minister and businessman) recently published an article – certainly written by one of his supporters – to present the ruling class’s point of view on what should be done after the coronavirus crisis. He said that the state should borrow to help “economic actors.” This means: “privatise profits and nationalise losses.”
The coming period will be very difficult for the working class. Mass layoffs, the dismantling of many sectors, and the disappearance of many small and medium-sized enterprises will drive unemployment to unprecedented levels. The reduction in wages, the increased cost of living, and the various attacks that the ruling class and its state will inflict on the workers will worsen their living and working conditions.
The scale of the crisis, and the pandemic itself, are a shock to the working class. Workers find themselves trapped by the chains of the criminal union bureaucracy, which defends the capitalist system at all costs. This was amply illustrated by the treachery of the union leadership in approving the decision to levy wages and their silence in the face of the various attacks against the workers. The working class also does not have a political party that could unite it as a class and give it a programme for struggle. All of this will have an impact on the working class and its ability to respond in the short term.
But what is certain is that, after the pandemic is over, the working class will return to factories and to the streets with a more fully developed consciousness. Workers will have seen where austerity and privatisation policies have led us; they will have suffered the full contempt of the state and of the capitalists for their lives and their suffering. They will also have realised that the beleaguered public sector has weathered the crisis the best, unlike the private sector, whose capitalist managers have all been hiding under their beds.
Then the working class will rise to fight, economically and politically. It will demand an end to attacks on the health and education sector and will oppose any repression. This class struggle will be international in nature: the Moroccan working class will join this movement by restoring its revolutionary traditions, drawing inspiration from the struggles of workers around the world and enriching them with their own experience.
In this context, Marxist ideas – which offer a revolutionary alternative, with the pillars of workers' control over social wealth and central planning of the economy for the service of all society – will become increasingly attractive. It will become easy for workers to understand why they should not leave their fate in the hands of a minority of pests but instead take control of it themselves.
This development of consciousness will not necessarily be gradual, but will take place by explosions and leaps. This is the perspective for which we must prepare by building a revolutionary leadership that can lead the workers to victory, to build a socialist society in which life will be safe, beautiful and free from all oppression and all violence!